Battling Depression – Jess Grimwood on suicide and the support of surfing

A raw interview with WQS surfer Jess Grimwood

 

I first met Jess Grimwood while surfing in El Salvador during a stop of the WQS qualifying series. She was competing for a spot on the World Tour. Even though we didn’t speak, I admired her strong appearance. She ROCKED short undercut hair and carefree attitude. I remember thinking, ‘She’s a badass. I bet her and I would get on really well’. Little did I know what she was going through. Jess would later tell me that El Salvador was one of the lowest points in her life.

 

A few months later Jess would attempt suicide at another WQS surf event. Following that, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression – both a result of her job as a firefighter. At 28, she went into full recovery. Today, Jess has taken the incredibly brave step to share her story in both this interview with Still Stoked, and this powerful video made by her brother.

 

I realised I had a second chance to choose what I wanted to do with my life and get out of a situation and lifestyle that was literally killing me.

 

Jessica Grimwood surfer

 

The video and interview below is a raw insight into the mind of Jess Grimwood. Surfing is a wonderful thing and many of us can relate to the ocean’s vital role and its positive impact on mental health and recovery.

 

Mental illness affects 1 in 5 Australians aged between 16-85. More than half of those people do not receive any help or treatment. The stigma of mental illness needs to be eradicated; speak up before it’s too late, because IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK.

 

If you don’t already have a good support network then start building one. Just start with opening up to one person that loves you or has offered you support at some point along the way and this will kick it off.

 

Starring Jess Grimwood
Directed by Matt Grimwood
Filmed & Edited by Matt Grimwood
Water cinematography by Blake Wilton
Music by Kahran Raj

 

 

An interview with Jess Grimwood

 

What was your inspiration to get into the fire service and have you got any advice for others thinking of this career path?

My inspiration was to help people first and foremost, and then to work in a physical job.I feel it’s important for anyone wanting to get into this career to fully understand the nature of being a first responder to emergency incidents. You need to understand what exactly the job requires you to do as a  firefighter. It’s a lot more than most people ever imagine and includes way more than just fires.

 

How does surfing help your depression? Was there ever a point or situation that surfing made it worst?  
Surfing helps me clear my mind and washes off everything. When it didn’t help was when I was so tired that doing anything physical just added to the exhaustion.

 

Jessica Grimwood surfer

Photo Channtel McPherson

 

Does surfing in crowds make any difference? Did you have any strategies to get over this or make it better?
Yeah, I hated surfing around too many people and I still do. I would just go find another place alone to surf because I felt I needed that space with the ocean. I also talk out a lot of things when I’m sitting out the back waiting, so having nobody around helps with that and not looking too crazy!

 

When you were going through all that internal turmoil, did you speak to anyone about it? 
I actually didn’t talk about it to any human. I tried a few times to talk it out to my dog and I could barely handle bringing it up with her. So no, anytime I felt as though I wanted to talk about it. I would just drink instead and take drugs just to try stay in the numb zone and not have to think... Unfortunately

 

Did anyone one thing that someone said or did, make you feel better?
During recovery yes. Just people and my family offering me patience and love. During when I was at my worst, not really. It may have felt better for a few minutes but the end of the day I still had the same thoughts and nightmares and experiences. And I felt alone.<

 

Jessica Grimwood surfer

Photo by Matt Grimwood

 

Did you find that people treated you differently once they knew of your mental illness? 
Not really. I felt I owned it so I didn’t really give people the chance to get weird around me. I just kind of told people matter of factly.

 

How has your impression and understanding of mental illness changed most through your experience?
I always thought it was completely under our own control, but I understand there is a fair bit that is controlled by chemicals and processing in your body you don’t have direct or immediate control over. These things are only changed over time with a lot of effort. e.g. diet.

 

What diet did you change that made a positive impact?
I think the biggest change in diet was eating more of the fresh things and sourcing them. I can feel a definite difference when I eat cheap supermarket food or when I find some rich homegrown produce. I increased the number of greens and fresh stuff and decreased the amount of sugar and other processed foods. I also eliminated alcohol altogether. A basic simple colourful diet is a good way to start and there are so many great books on gut health you can read.

 

Read: Athlete diet advice & the benefits of eating healthy

 

Jessica Grimwood surfer

Photo surfing Australia / Smith

 

What has been the best thing to come of such an awful experience?
I realised I had a second chance to choose what I wanted to do with my life and get out of a situation and lifestyle that was literally killing me. I get to speak to plenty of people and help them to talk about how they feel or inspire them to get help because there is hope.

 

I didn’t feel as alone or stupid about not being able to cope when people spoke to me about what they were also going through.

 

What was the most helpful stuff that your friends and family did for you during your recovery (often people feel at a loss about what they can do to help)?
They kept me company. They brought me real coffee in hospital. They were super patient and decided to open up about their feelings as well. I didn’t feel as alone or stupid about not being able to cope when people spoke to me about what they were also going through.

 

What advice would you give to someone on a similar path?
If you don’t already have a good support network then start building one. Just start with opening up to one person that loves you or has offered you support at some point along the way and this will kick it off.

 

What makes you optimistic about the future?
Opportunities, new career, new lifestyle.

 

 

What does surfing mean to you?

Surfing means everything to me. If I was landlocked I’m really not sure who I would be. It makes up so much of me as a human and soul.

 

THANK YOU SO MUCH JESS! You’re incredible and your strength and bravery in sharing your story, in talking about it, will help so many more people. More than you can ever know. If you can relate to what Jess went through, please know that it is OK to not be OK. Talk to someone, it will help. All the best, Alexa x

About the author

Alexa

Hiya, I'm Alexa. Always on some sort of adventure! I'm excited to share my stories & introduce you to other rad women, also living the dream.
I'm here to inspire you to do the same :-)

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